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Negligent Security: Are You an Invitee, Licensee, or Trespasser, and Why Does it Matter?

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December 5, 2023

A negligent security claim is a type of premises liability claim. Premises liability laws vary slightly from state to state, but generally categorize visitors to a property into three groups: invitee, licensee, and trespasser. In this article, we look at the different types of visitor to a property and how that affects a property owner’s liability in a negligent security lawsuit. 

In general, property owners have a legal duty to keep their property reasonably safe for visitors to the property. If you are considering filing a negligent security lawsuit against a business or property owner, it is important that you understand the type of visitor that you are, and how that affects your legal claim. If, after reading this summary, you would like more information about negligent security claims or your legal rights in a negligent security claim, the negligent security attorneys at Morris James are available to help. Contact us online or by calling 302.655.2599.

Overview of a negligent security claim

When we step onto someone else's property, we have a right to be reasonably safe from harm. Unfortunately, that does not always happen. When a property owner fails to protect visitors from foreseeable dangers, including by providing reasonable security measures, the property owner may be liable for resulting injuries. A negligent security claim arises when someone is injured in a criminal attack that occurs on another person’s property. A negligent security claim is a civil claim by the victim against the property owner or manager for compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering for their injuries. It is separate and distinct from the criminal case that the authorities may bring against your attacker.

More information about negligent security claims is available here. These types of cases can be complex, involving factors such as past criminal activity in the area and the adequacy of the security measures in place. However, with the right legal representation, victims can hold negligent property owners accountable for their actions (or lack thereof) and receive financial compensation for their medical bills, lost wages, and other losses.

Common elements in negligent security cases 

In any negligent security claim, there are certain key elements that apply to prove liability regardless of what type of visitor the plaintiff/victim was at the time of the attack. A victim must prove that the property owner owed them a duty of care, that they breached that duty, and that their breach caused the victim’s injuries. In a negligent security claim, the duty of care is slightly different depending on the type of visitor to the property but generally, it is the responsibility of the property owner to identify and rectify any potential hazards to ensure safe premises for all visitors. This includes the foreseeable risk of a criminal attack while on the property, therefore the property owner is required to take reasonable steps to protect visitors to their property from such an attack. If they do not, they may be breaching their legal duty of care to those visitors.

Understanding the different types of visitors to a property and the duty of care

When it comes to filing a legal claim for negligent security, understanding the different types of visitors to a property, and determining which the victim is, is crucial because it will determine the duty of care owed by the property owner. There are various levels of liability for property owners, depending on whether the entrant is considered an invitee, licensee, or trespasser.

a. Invitees

Invitees are people who are on the property at the invitation of the property owner/occupier for a business purpose such as a customer in a store, a restaurant patron, or a hotel guest. A property owner must keep their property reasonably safe for invitees from hazards that they know about or should know about. This means that the property owner must repair or warn about, and inspect for, dangerous conditions. A broken lock or a spate of violent attacks in the area are conditions that a property owner should know about, and will likely be taken into account when determining their liability.

b. Licensees and Trespassers

Licensees are generally social guests to the property or other visitors who are there for their own interest, not the mutual benefit of the property owner and the visitor. A guest at a house-party or a salesperson might be considered a licensee. Trespassers are unauthorized visitors to a property. In Delaware, property owners owe the same duty of care to licensees and trespassers. They can only bring a premises liability claim against a property owner if the property owner’s conduct was intentional, wilful, or wanton.

Knowing which category a property visitor falls under can greatly impact the outcome of a legal case. It is important to consult an experienced attorney who understands the nuances of the law in your state, and can help you navigate the complexities of a negligent security claim.

Examples of negligent security claims 

For innocent victims of criminal attacks, the consequences of a property owner’s failure to keep their property safe from foreseeable criminal attacks can be devastating. Many negligent security claims involve severe or fatal injuries, physical suffering, and emotional turmoil for victims or the loved ones they leave behind.

Some examples of cases involving negligent security include the failure to provide adequate lighting, lack of surveillance cameras, or failure to employ security personnel. All these situations put visitors to a property at increased risk of harm such as robbery, assault, and other criminal activities. If there has been a history of such crimes in the area, a property owner is even more likely to be held liable because it was foreseeable that someone might be attacked on their property.

Other negligent security cases focus more on the lack of property-trained staff or security personnel on a business premises. A small grocery store in a low-crime area during the day might not reasonably be expected to hire security guards for its customers. However, a bar with a reputation for disturbances may be expected to employ security personnel that can prevent or break up a fight if necessary. If someone is injured in a brawl in a parking lot at closing time, the bar owner could be liable in a negligent security claim brought by the injured victims.

Advice for Filing a Successful Negligent Security Claim

Filing a negligent security claim may seem daunting, but the help of a skilled lawyer, like the negligent security lawyers at Morris James, can ease your burden and increase your chances of obtaining compensation for your injuries. If you think that you or a loved one has been the victim of negligent security, the best thing to do is contact a negligent security attorney without delay to find out more about your options and to ensure that you do not miss any critical legal deadlines. Each state has a legal deadline for filing a lawsuit, called the statute of limitations, and if you miss this deadline you may lose your right to file a claim. Many negligent security attorneys, including our attorneys at Morris James, will not charge you anything for your initial consultation so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by contacting a lawyer as soon as possible. 

Our attorneys will help you gather as much evidence as possible, such as incident reports, witness statements, and surveillance footage. You should also keep copies of all of your medical records, medical bills, photos of your injuries, and any other documentation that may be relevant to your claim. We also have a network of top-notch expert witnesses to support your case and will use the evidence, expert witnesses, and skills and experience of our team to build a strong case and negotiate for the compensation you deserve. By holding negligent property owners accountable, you will not only get help with the financial losses you have suffered but you can also help prevent similar incidents from happening to someone else in the future. If you have been injured in an attack on another person's property or through inadequate security measures, the negligent security lawyers at Morris James can help.

At Morris James, our attorneys have been standing up for victims since we opened our doors in 1932. If you have any questions about negligent security or have been injured due to negligent security, contact us online or call us 302.655.2599.


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